Guest Column| Doug Trieste: Throttling the e-bike conundrum
There is a lot of debate, anger and misunderstanding regarding various types of electric bikes, their usage, where they are allowed, etc. Some people would like to see them go away altogether, and others cherish them and see them as life altering.
We are just scratching the surface on this matter because they are evolving, and sales, rentals, and usage rates are increasing exponentially. Like it or not, they are here to stay, and we all need to accept this new norm.
Purists and other antagonists see e-bikes as some type of “alien invasion.” E-bikes are the “new kid on the block” — similar to when snowboards first hit the ski slopes. And, I think Class 1 e-bikes are as harmless as regular bikes and simply assist pedaling, if needed.
I have seen several recent letters in the Summit Daily News commenting on the Colorado Sun article, “‘Cheater!’: Tensions rise as Coloradans debate how much trail access to give e-bikes” published online on Aug. 29 and in print the day after. I’d like to present some discussion in defense of Class 1 electric mountain bikes on natural surface trails. The article brought to my attention that many antagonists don’t understand e-bikes and those who ride them.
Many people simply don’t understand that not everyone is healthy enough to ride regular bikes long distances, up hills, or on difficult natural surface trails, but they love cycling, and an e-bike can assist and get them out on the trails again. That is not cheating. There appears to be prejudice — a preconceived opinion that is not based in reason or actual experience — regarding e-bikes similar to judging people by the skis they ride, clothes they wear or color of their skin. Calling an e-bike rider a “cheater” is ignorant — especially when those people don’t know the rider’s story.
I have lived in Summit County for 36 years and have been an avid mountain biker for most of that time and have helped with trail construction and maintenance. Yes, I was one of those “purists.” However, due to life-threatening medical conditions, I gave up cycling on natural-surface trails several years ago due to my physical limitations including strength, endurance, balance and neuropathy. My wife encouraged me to try a Class 1 electric mountain bike, which “assists” in peddling at no detriment to others, trails, nor environment. The electric mountain bike was a godsend because it gave me the assistance I needed to cycle again on natural-surface trails with difficult terrain. That is not cheating, and I certainly don’t see a negative side to it! But now there are regulations that prohibit electric mountain bikes on natural-surface trails for no rational, justifiable reason, which in a sense is penalizing one for physical limitations.
The “cheater” article goes on to state, “But critics compare e-bikes to motorcycles and fear they could pit other trail users against cyclists in general, jeopardizing hard-fought trail access for mountain bikes.” There is no justification nor examples for that comparison. It’s invalid to compare e-mountain bikes to motorcycles which are gas-powered, high-powered, large-tire, bigger, heavier, noisy, exhaust-emitting motor vehicles that can damage natural surface trails.
The reporter included debate about whether an e-mountain bike should be allowed to ride on natural-surface trails and mentioned current regulations that prohibit that, yet those regulations are not specific to the type of e-bike and have no validity. Class 1 e-mountain bikes are “bikes” that have to be pedaled to allow their motor to assist pedaling. I don’t think they are going to damage trails any more than an analog mountain bike. Class 1 e-mountain bikes and their riders aren’t going to intimidate other riders any more than analog mountain bike riders, some of which do in fact intimidate other riders. So why are regulatory agencies and some of the general public adamant about them? There is no rational reason and it’s time for regulators to accept change and put prejudices aside.
The real issue is the rider’s behavior and values, not the type of bike being ridden.
Doug Trieste is a 37-year resident of Breckenridge and is an avid mountain biker. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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